A bridge painter who drowned after falling from the Lewis and Clark Bridge in Washington State had been wearing a harness but had not tied off, his employer said Tuesday (Nov. 6).
Stavros Semanderes, owner of Odyssey Contracting (also known as Odyssey Painting Co.), said that the death of Charles William "Bill" Wiley Jr., 40, was due to "human error"—specifically, to Wiley's failure to tie off.
"The fact is that the body was recovered and he had the harness on," Semanderes said. "He [messed] up. He didn't hook up."
His employer called Bill Wiley "very safety conscious and diligent."
Wiley fell into the Columbia River from the Lewis and Clark Bridge on Oct. 7. His body was recovered Saturday afternoon (Nov. 4) six to eight miles downstream.
Wiley worked for Odyssey/Geronimo JV, which has been painting the bridge since mid-2010 under a $33.7 million contract with the Washington State Department of Transportation.
'No Way to Prevent It'
Wiley fell while painting the span between Longview, WA, and Rainier, OR. He was presumed drowned at the time.
The local Sheriff's Office said told KOIN-TV several weeks after the accident that it was "still not exactly known how or why the safety equipment that Mr. Wiley was wearing did not prevent his fall."
Semanderes said Tuesday that the reason was that Wiley had not tied in—an oversight, he said, his company could not have prevented.
"What am I going to do?" he said. "Are you going to check everybody every second? You're supposed to be tied in 100 percent."
Semanderes said he had about 50 painters working on the bridge at the time. He said Wiley had been a "safe" worker and was "never observed not hooking up. I think it was an accident. There was no way to prevent it."
He added: "You need the worker to be conscious and responsible for his safety. Certainly, his mind was not on the job."
Odyssey Contracting / WSDOT
Odyssey/Geronimo JV has a $33.7 million contract to paint the Lewis and Clark Bridge.
In a statement by the company, Odyssey-Geronimo called Wiley "an experienced union journeyman bridge painter" who had worked on the Lewis and Clark project for two seasons. "He was a very safety conscious and diligent employee," the release said.
The company said that the only co-worker to see Wiley fall took immediate action, contacting his supervisor and telling other crew members to call 911. A boat reached the scene "in less than four minutes," but "even such a quick response could not help Bill as no one saw him return to the surface after the fall."
Wiley's was the third fatality involving an Odyssey employee in three years.
On Tuesday, Semanderes reiterated that the December 2010 death of painter Ercio Gasques, 29, of Newark, NJ, was unavoidable. Gasques died in a 40-foot fall from the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge in Maine. After being cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Odyssey paid a $5,600 fine for the death on the $9.3 million contract.
Semanderes said after that accident that "human error" was to blame for it.
In 2009, Michael L'Hereaux fell to his death while performing abrasive blasting on the McKees Rocks Bridge in Pennsylvania. His employer says L'Hereaux cut the cable that held his plaform.
On the other hand, Semanderes said Tuesday that employee Michael L'Hereaux's death in October 2009 was his own responsibility. L'Hereaux was one of four employees performing abrasive blasting on the McKees Rocks Bridge in McKees Rocks, PA. L'Hereaux fell 124 feet to his death when the scaffolding from which he was working collapsed.
"Analysis revealed extreme ablative damage to the wires at the failure site, significant enough to cause the wire rope to fail," OSHA records said. The company paid a $12,600 fine in that case.
Cable Cut Cited
OSHA's records do not indicate which of the blasters caused the damage, but Semanderes said L'Hereaux had cut the cable. In an email to PaintSquare News, Semanderes wrote:
"The cable did not fail, it was cut by the man who fell to his death. OSHA did an extensive investigation and tests and determined that for the wire rope to be cut he had to work on it with his nozzle for over one minute. The cable was not damaged by other workers, it was cut by the man that was killed."
The email said that all three fatal accidents "were thoroughly investigated by the proper Federal and Local authorities and found that the cause in each case was operator error and not due to company neglect. They found that we had provided all the proper equipment, training, and did prudent monitoring and enforcement of our safety plan.
"We feel sorry for the individuals lost and their families, but there is nothing more than we could have done at the time to prevent these unfortunate events."
'Loving Husband and Father'
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is investigating Wiley's death.
In the release, Wiley's employer called him "a loving husband and father ... and a well-liked co-worker who will be missed."
"Our hearts go out to his family, and we will do all we can to ease the pain of their loss," the statement said. "May God give rest to Bill’s gentle soul and strength to his family to deal with their loss."